There are guides to every aspect and every angle of parenthood-from prenatal to post-college-yet none tells us what couples really and truly feel once confronted with the awesome power of Nature's Course. The Three of Us does.
Seasoned travelers, successful professionals, Joanna Coles and Peter Godwin arrived in Manhattan ready to make it their oyster-she to be the New York correspondent for a major British newspaper, he to pursue his prize-winning career as a writer and journalist. Of course they were self-absorbed; why come to New York, if not to explore every avenue of self-interest? The news that Joanna is pregnant, however, causes a massive shift in paradigm. Suddenly they are launched unsteadily but irrevocably toward an altogether new New World.
Like a series of mental ultrasounds, The Three of Us consists of alternating diary entries in which, day by day and month by month, Peter and Joanna navigate the uncharted waters of impending parenthood. There is much to discuss-the pros and cons of raising a child in a neighborhood frequented by transvestite prostitutes, for example-yet their reactions are not always on the same page; male and female panic about the Joyous Event, as we learn, can differ sharply. But every parent-to-be, every parent-that-is, will recognize and rejoice in the wonderful, terrible, and sometimes hilarious anxieties that attend the building of a nest. The Three of Us is a candid, refreshing, and reaffirming memoir about coming to terms with a new life.
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About the Author
Joanna Coles is the New York correspondent for the London Times. The Three of Us is her first book.
Peter Godwin is the author of Mukiwa, A White Boy in Africa, which won the George Orwell Prize, and writes for Newsweek, National Geographic, and the New York Times Magazine. They live in New York with their son, Thomas.
Joanna Coles is the New York correspondent for the London Times. The Three of Us: A New Life in New York is her first book.
Peter Godwin is the author of Mukiwa, A White Boy in Africa, which won the George Orwell Prize, and writes for Newsweek, National Geographic, and the New York Times Magazine.
Read an Excerpt
The Three of Us
A New Life In New York
By Joanna Coles, Peter Godwin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1999 Joanna Coles and Peter Godwin
All rights reserved.
Friday, 1 May
The test is negative. There is no pink line in the second box on the tester stick, but I'm sure I am pregnant. I haven't done it wrong either. Over the years I've done enough of these tests to know exactly how to use them; how to pee in a squatting position without splashing all over the tester stick and precisely how long to wait before looking for the tell-tale sign. Sometimes they use a red tick to indicate you're pregnant; sometimes it's a blue cross. With this one, the Answer Test, a positive answer is indicated by two pink lines. But there is only one. The other box, the important box, remains clear, white and unambiguous. I am not pregnant.
Friday, 1 May
I have just returned from the doctor, who has managed to convince me that I am dying. The cause of my premature death will be the polyp that has developed under the skin of my left elbow. I became aware of it a few days ago as I walked along Hudson Street from the Printing House gym, favoured exercise yard of the West Village literati, back to our loft on Horatio Street. My polyp is hard to the touch, like a walnut, and curiously mobile. I fiddle with it constantly, my own internal worry bead.
At first I thought I had overdone it with the free weights. Although in denial about my own competitiveness, I am loath to lessen the weights when alternating on a machine with someone else of comparable size. Over the years I have sustained various injuries to ligaments and muscles due to such hubris, and this elbow polyp, I figured, was simply the latest. But there were worrying differences: the suddenness of my polyp's first appearance. One minute nothing, the next a subcutaneous walnut. The lack of surrounding swelling. And the fact that it didn't actually hurt. Finally, when the walnut refused to diminish on its own, I went to the doctor.
Under the American health insurance system my family doctor is, as far as I can deduce, a gatekeeper. He is there to prevent me from having access to specialists. The more often he can stymie my attempts to reach the doctors who really know what they're doing, the expensive doctors, the more lavishly he is rewarded by our insurers.
Dr Epstein has a practice on 14th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenue. It is one of the most depressing streets downtown – not quite Chelsea, not yet Greenwich Village – strewn with tacky shops selling cheap plastic luggage and knock-off trainers, polyester clothes and tinny boom boxes. Many of the shops urgently proclaim that they are in the throes of closing-down sales. EVERYTHING MUST GO, their banners read. Several announce that they are going bankrupt and in POSITIVELY OUR VERY LAST WEEK. But in all the months I have traversed the street, none of these shops has actually closed.
The other patients waiting in Dr Epstein's reception are all longshoremen – wide men in steel-toed boots, checked flannel shirts and jeans. For Dr Epstein's practice is above the Longshoremen's Union headquarters. My appointment comes and goes, but my name remains uncalled. Perhaps, among these giants, I am not big enough for my physical presence even to register.
'Godwin. It's Godwin, actually.'
'Whatever. Dr Epstein will see you now.'
Dr Epstein is small and hairy and rotund. He is evidently suffering from a terrible cold and his voice is clogged with catarrh. After taking a brief medical history, he places two stubby fingers on my polyp and chases it around my elbow. 'Hmm,' he muses.
Odd? I am a doctor's son and I know that 'odd' is not good.
'Does it hurt?' he asks.
'Is it growing?'
'No, it was that size when it arrived.'
Dr Epstein rapidly fills out a large form. It is latticed with boxes, most of which he is ticking.
'Tests,' he explains. 'You need tests, a lot of 'em.'
I feel like I'm in an opening sequence of ER, with the first plot line being wheeled in on the gurney while Dr Ross or Dr Green rattles off a battery of acronyms.
'What seems to be the problem?' I ask, realizing this should be his line.
'Let's just wait until the test results come in, shall we?'
'But what kind of thing might it be?' I insist.
'Well, I'm really not sure, but ...' He trails off.
'But what?' I prompt.
'It might be a lymphoma.'
Lymphoma, I know from ER, is American doctor-speak for cancer, and I return to our apartment in the West Village convinced that my future is mostly behind me.
Saturday, 2 May
I am more than a week late now. On the back of the packet it proclaims the Answer Test is so sensitive it can detect pregnancy within twenty-four hours of an overdue period. On the front it claims to be '99 per cent accurate!' so I think perhaps the test is past its sell-by date. I didn't much trust the pharmacist who sold it to me. He looked shifty and I had to wait for ages while a tall, balding man was interrogating him about Viagra, Pfizer's wonder drug to overcome 'erectile dysfunction'.
'How much is it?' he asked in a heavy Hispanic whisper.
'It's about ten bucks a shot, but you can only get it on prescription,' said the pharmacist.
'Ten bucks? Each tablet is ten bucks?' demanded the man, louder and alarmed.
'Yes, but it's only available on prescription,' the pharmacist repeated, tidying the breath mints by the till. 'I can't just sell it over the counter, you need a doctor's recommendation.'
'Oh it's not for me,' said the customer hastily. 'It's for my friend.'
'Then you tell your friend he has to see a doctor before he can get some.'
'But this is not possible,' the customer replied. 'My friend, he is in Brazil. He is desperate ...'
'Tell you what,' said the pharmacist, lowering his voice, 'come back around seven p.m. when things are a little quieter round here, and I'll see what I can do for you, OK?'
'Seven p.m. today? I'll be here, seven p.m. Thank you, thank you.'
'But you better tell your friend how much this stuff is gonna cost him, OK?' said the pharmacist.
'I tell him, I tell him exactly,' said the customer, giving him a discreet thumbs up and hurrying out of the store.
Sunday, 3 May
I am preoccupied with the wait for my test results and I cannot possibly concentrate on my novel. Despite a recent spurt, my book is going terribly anyway. Dog metaphors besiege me when I try to describe its progress. Sometimes I feel like a dog that circles interminably around something unknown, something it hasn't quite got the confidence to confront. Sometimes when I approach passages which cry out for major rewriting, I feel a nauseating déjà vu, like a dog returning to its own vomit.
The truth is I have had writer's block for months, but I cannot bear to admit it. It seems I need the Zimmer frame of non-fiction on which to rest the body of my imagination; I am crippled without the firm aluminium stroller of fact. Scared by the multitude of options out there, I have to impose a false horizon, a fake polystyrene ceiling, on my literary ambitions.
It's like loft living. We thought that this loft we now inhabit, with its vast, high ceilings, would be the most aesthetic living machine possible; a white-walled, parquet-floored, 2,000-square- foot playground for adults. But soon a strange attitude developed. We found ourselves delineating areas. At first it was just in our minds, as defined by clusters of furniture, the dining-room table, my study desk, the TV. But then we began, little by little, to cordon off areas with bookshelves and sofas and filing cabinets, trying to create a conventional apartment out of our soaring, unfettered space. Such, I have begun to fear, is the story of my literary imagination too.
I have printed out a sign which says: THIS IS YOUR JOB. It is supposed to urge me to take writing more seriously and to remind me that the novel is now my main source of income – because I have virtually no other source. I have blown up the message in 29-point Times New Roman bold type and affixed it to the pillar opposite my desk with a blob of chewing gum. I know I am far too old for gum, but it seems to alleviate the headaches that have been plaguing me.
Sunday, 3 May
Wandering over to Peter's desk, I stretch my right leg out on the window sill as I imagine the dancer Sylvie Guillaume might do to stretch her astonishingly long hamstrings, and announce, 'I'm not pregnant.'
'What do you mean?' he says, hunched over his Powerbook without looking up.
'I mean I've done a test and I'm not pregnant.'
'That's good,' he says, tapping the space bar and still not looking up. 'Did you think you might be?'
'Well, it's very odd because I'm late and I'm never usually late. But the test is negative, so I can't be pregnant.'
There is a short pause. 'Good oh,' he says cheerfully.
Sunday, 3 May
Joanna is behaving very oddly. Suddenly she announces that she's not pregnant. I hadn't even realized that she might be. I assume that being unpregnant is the standard template, one that doesn't require confirmation by way of regular bulletins. In any case I am relieved by the all clear.
Later, on my way to buy groceries at D'Agostino's on Washington Street, I pass a man unloading boxes from a truck into the twenty-four-hour City Deli at the corner of our building. On the side of the truck is painted the name of the company: 'Lo Boy Foods'. Underneath it advertises 'Individual portions of meats and fish'. An entire company devoted to the catering needs of solitary diners? Maybe that is my fate, sitting alone in middle age, eating individual portions of meat and fish from 'Lo Boy Foods'.
The prospect of Joanna being pregnant suddenly doesn't seem so unpalatable, well, no less palatable than a future fuelled by 'Lo Boy Foods'.
On my return from shopping, on the corner of Bank and Hudson, the old folks are sitting in their wheelchairs on the pavement in front of the Village Nursing Home, rolled there by the white-uniformed nursing aides for some 'fresh air'. Their the worn-out bodies will slowly toast the morning away in their wheelchairs, empty eyes staring out at the traffic.
And I notice, yet again, the smartly dressed middle-aged man sitting on a bench to one side, with his mother. He reads the New York Times intently, while she sits twitching next to him, one leg crossed tightly over the other, bony knuckles clenched over the armrests of her wheelchair. She is unable to talk or even to listen, it seems. I'm sure she wouldn't notice whether he's there or not, but that doesn't dissuade this conscientious son from his daily vigil. His dedication to his uncomprehending mother makes me feel ashamed of myself.
And again a baser thought worms its way into my mind. Maybe it's just as well to have kids around in case I happen to survive into my own dotage.
Friday, 8 May
My period is now two weeks late, though every day it feels as if it's about to start. I can't face the uncertainty of another home test, so I am sitting in the offices of my Murray Hill gynaecologist. I am thirty-six and this is the first time I have ever visited a gynaecologist. At home, in England, I relied on the GP for everything, but in New York everyone has a different doctor for every part of the body. Americans recommend them to each other as a sign of trust and friendship, like hot stock-market tips. I remember asking Kelly, shortly after we'd met and we were sitting in Bar Pitti on Sixth Avenue, if she could suggest a good doctor.
'Well, you know, a good family doctor, a generalist.'
'You know, that's kinda hard and I really wouldn't recommend mine,' she said, pushing a manicured index finger around the salt-fringed rim of her margarita so it made a dry, squeaking noise. 'I really don't think he's very good. He won't diagnose over the phone, so you have to go to his office every time you need him. But I do have a very good dermatologist, my gynaecologist is excellent and I have a truly excellent podiatrist. But he may be full, I was lucky, he was mentioned in New York magazine's top ten doctors, and now he's got a waiting list longer than the Coney Island boardwalk ...'
'Honey, you should tell her about our neurologist too,' interrupted Jeff, her husband. 'And somewhere', he added, fishing out his Palm Pilot and whipping the stylus over the screen, 'I have the number of a very good orthopediologist. How much do you pay for insurance?'
'Three hundred and eighty-nine dollars a month. Each.'
'What? Are you nuts? Three eighty nine! We only pay two hundred and fifty each.'
'It was the cheapest I could find that would take us on,' I protested.
'Health care in this country is screwed,' said Jeff, tapping his margarita glass and mouthing 'Three more, please' to the bartender. 'Hey, is that Madonna over there?' Outside the bar a white stretch limo had pulled up and the singer, accompanied by another woman, got out and disappeared into the bar next door.
'Well screw her,' said Jeff, who, I have noticed recently, can get pretty angry over nothing much at all. 'Screw her and her slutty friends. We don't want them in here anyway.'
'Doctors?' I murmured trying to bring the subject back.
He shook his head. 'You want a general doctor, right?'
'Yes,' I said, thinking back to Dr O'Reilly in Notting Hill, whom I had chosen because, like every other GP I have ever been to in my life, she was the nearest.
'Well, it all depends. Do you self-medicate?' he demanded.
'Self-medicate. You know, self-diagnose, call your doctor and self-prescribe?'
I confessed this was not a common practice in Britain.
'Oh it should be, it saves them time and you can just pick up the prescription ... I mean three years ago I was going through a bad time – before I met you, honey,' he grinned at Kelly. 'And I knew I was having a depression. So I phoned up and self-prescribed Prozac.'
'Really?' I exclaimed, imagining how Dr O'Reilly – a taciturn Irish woman whose sole driving force appeared to come from resisting local pressure to become a GP fundholder – would have reacted if I had phoned and casually self-prescribed Prozac.
'Yeah, well, as it turned out I didn't suit Prozac at all, in fact it made me a little paranoid. But then I did go to see my doctor and she switched me to Zoloft, which has been great. It's a much better drug for me in fact. Still is.
'Whatever, you'll love my doctor,' he added, retrieving a pen from his wife's Prada Kelly bag. 'Give her a call and say I recommended you. Leah Falzone, she's over on Union Square.'
Friday, 8 May
It is nearly midnight and I'm in my customary position, slumped at my desk staring out of the window. The meat trucks have just started their deliveries outside, so instead of going to bed and lying awake, fretting about my test results, I am trying to work. Our apartment block is in a supposedly 'happening' area called the Meat Packing District, and we are surrounded by giant meat warehouses that supply New York's restaurants and hotels. Unbeknown to us when we moved in, the Meat Packing District is deserted during the day, beginning its work each night at about midnight, when convoys of huge refrigerated trucks arrive from the Mid-West to unload chilled carcasses of cows, sheep and pigs. These trucks back up into the warehouses emitting a continuous screech of warning beeps, a sound specifically designed to penetrate. And penetrate it does, right through our storm windows and over the roar of the air-conditioner.
So I sit at my desk, trying to work and looking out at the view. It is an interesting view, more interesting than the stale words of my novel. To the north it takes in the illuminated ribbons of traffic of the West Side Highway, busy at any hour; a vast floodlit billboard of the Marlboro cowboy lighting up against a bucolic Montana backdrop; and a large black 'V' sign on an orange background, which marks the entrance to the Vault, which bills itself as New York's favourite S&M club.
Across to the west is the chimneyed husk of the decommissioned Chelsea branch of the New York Sanitation Department, now used as a parking lot for city garbage trucks; a broad band of the Hudson River and the twinkling lights of the condo towers that have recently risen from the New Jersey shoreline. In the strip of wall mirror at right angles to the window, I can see the reflection of the massive mausoleum of the Port Authority Terminal and across to the Empire State Building.
Excerpted from The Three of Us by Joanna Coles, Peter Godwin. Copyright © 1999 Joanna Coles and Peter Godwin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved this true tale of two carreer people and the news that they will soon be three people instead of the two they have been many years. It is a really good book full of excitement and hilarity and the topics raised by both authors are timely. Recommended.